April 19: Limerick is ripe for more investment

Any week in which over 400 jobs are announced for Limerick must go down as a good week.

Any week in which over 400 jobs are announced for Limerick must go down as a good week.

Ethicon Biosurgery, a Johnson & Johnson company, are investing €80 million in a new plant in Castletroy that will employ 270 directly over the next five years. And around 150 construction workers will find employment as the plant is put together next year. In addition, as many as 650 spin-off jobs could be created at supporting companies.

More encouraging still are the signals from the highest levels of national and local government that more investment could be on the way from the medical devices and biomedical sectors.

Michael Noonan has rightly observed that Limerick has been something of a jack of all trades through its recent industrial history. The presence of the likes of Google and Microsoft in Dublin and Pfizer and Eli Lilly in Cork has seen ICT and pharma jobs naturally gravitate towards those cities. Such a niche is something Limerick has lacked until now.

This week’s announcement means that soon only the HSE will employ more people in Limerick than Johnson & Johnson. Their presence here - along with Cook, Stryker, Regeneron and others - amounts to a cluster of similar industries that can only be good for the future.

Big ticket jobs announcements by multinationals, however, will not be sufficient in Limerick’s fightback. Smaller indigenous enterprises will form the vanguard of recovery and must be supported in every way possible.

This is recognised by the economist David McWilliams in a piece in this Wednesday’s Irish Independent, in which he also says there is no better location in Ireland than Limerick in which such firms could start up.

The column is unusual in that the national press more often prefers to print negative stories about Limerick with completely exaggerated accounts of crime and social decay in “Ireland’s Detroit”.

But having spent the weekend here and experiencing the bustle of the Milk Market for himself, McWilliams writes about another, more familiar Limerick.

It is a city that also has a middle class and - shock, horror - a Brown Thomas! McWilliams notes that the department store has seen its turnover grow faster in Limerick this year than in Dublin or Cork.

And while this shows there is disposable income around Limerick, wage levels here are such that the city is a good place to invest.

“Housing and wages are 60% and 20% cheaper, respectively, in Limerick than in Dublin. This is all good for the efficacy of any investment,” says McWilliams, adding that Limerick has all the elements necessary for renewal.

Incidentally, he also makes a couple of points that have been repeated on numerous occasions in these pages in recent years - that no more largescale suburban retail developments must be permitted on the outskirts of the city and that Limerick needs to better integrate its large student population into the life of the city centre.

One must not get carried away with such optimism when Ireland and Limerick are still struggling to get back on their feet. But sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to see things anew and David McWilliams’ positive look at Limerick will have gone down well in the city and county this week.

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